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Can we handle the truth?

Updated December 15, 2018


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

NEXT month, it will be three years since the ‘arrest’ of the notorious Lyari (in Karachi) crime boss Uzair Baloch was announced and photographs issued to the media showing a uniformed Rangers major in a balaclava, with a paratrooper’s wing pinned to his chest, cuffing the man wanted in dozens of cases of murder, kidnapping and extortion.

One hoped that those holding him, instead of making unsubstantiated leaks in the media about the politicians who had, or were alleged to have, directed some of his criminal activities and reaped both financial and political dividends, arrested all those involved and tried them in open court.

From the archives: The eight lives of Lyari

That three years after his arrest and after several leaks about the ‘diabolical’ politicians, who were apparently his patrons and major beneficiaries of his crimes, there is no sign of a trial hints at one of two things.

First, since the powerful institutions orchestrating the accountability of the ‘dirty politicians’ have obviously no love for them, revelations of criminals such as Uzair Baloch are being used as leverage against the politicians to ensure they are on the same page regarding ‘national security imperatives’.

The silence is particularly painful for the parents and families of the nearly 150 (mostly students) people massacred by the TTP.

Secondly, Uzair’s rise (to become the boss of a criminal enterprise) followed the killing in an encounter of Lyari don and erstwhile PPP loyalist Rehman Dakait in August 2009. By this time, the MQM’s chief patron Gen Musharraf had long been gone and, sources tell me, there was considerable concern in the (changed) security setup about the party’s lethal firepower.

At this point, it was evident that some elements in the Sindh government and intelligence agencies sought to create a counter-firepower to challenge the MQM’s supremacy. Another factor guiding the intelligence setup was that Baloch militants were seen as using Lyari as a refuge.

Access to and control of the impenetrable maze of miles and miles of narrow lanes of the neighbourhood were, therefore, a hugely desired objective. And if there was no way of directly gaining it, then a proxy was the next best option and a bitter pill that had to be swallowed.

This sometimes tacit and occasionally direct support allowed Uzair Baloch to acquire and wield so much power that his word became law in Lyari and no security official, including members of the (by then defunct) Lyari task force led by SP Chaudhry Aslam, which had killed Rehman in an ‘encounter’, could enter and operate in the neighbourhood in any meaningful manner.

Before the then corps commander and later DG ISI Lt-Gen Naveed Mukhtar and Rangers commander Maj-Gen Bilal Akbar (who would later, as lieutenant general, chief of general staff and corps commander, successfully argue for the Karachi template to be used elsewhere too) started the operation to crush all militants questioning the state’s writ, Uzair disappeared from the scene, to be found in Dubai in 2014.

This operation saw the MQM’s firepower brutally blunted, and the Lyari gangs suffered a similar fate. Several members were killed in ‘encounters’ with the Rangers, and dozens arrested. A greater number is said to have taken to their heels to save themselves. Admittedly, the daily bloodshed of the turf war was stemmed.

As a Karachiite who has seen my city bleed at the hands of such villains, would it be too much to ask for an open trial? Anyone in a position of authority, who supported them, no matter how worthy their objectives, needs to be held to account — mainly so there is no repeat of the blunders.

The enforcement of law and an even-handed process brings me to a police official who both the state and politicians seem to value for different reasons. Yes, the reference here is to the infamous SP Rao Anwar.

After his role in the Naqibullah Mehsud murder became public, this newspaper carried a brilliant investigative report by the fearless Naziha Syed Ali and Fahim Zaman which linked the police official to some 400 such ‘encounter’ killings.

Dawn Investigation: Rao Anwar and the killing fields of Karachi

Reportedly, Rao Anwar has long enjoyed the support of certain politicians allegedly for rendering them unparalleled services in the acquisition of land for their ‘development’ projects and to intelligence agencies for the ‘disposal’ of their dangerous arrested ‘terrorists’.

Then, of course, there was the so-called Punjabi Taliban leader Asmatullah Moavia whose group was hand in glove with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) including in the bombing of a church in Peshawar in 2013 in which nearly 100 innocent Christian lives were lost.

Before that in 2010 his group was cited in the attacks on two Ahmadi Friday congregations in which more than 100 worshippers were slain. However, later Moavia reportedly announced he was not going to attack Pakistan security forces and was apparently quietly given amnesty as he was seen in his south Punjab village near Vehari. The press reports were never contradicted by officials.

Next, there is the case of the erstwhile TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan who ‘surrendered’ or was captured in 2017. While his officially authorised detailed interview was telecast more than two years ago, and despite the then PML-N minister of state for interior (since disqualified from parliament for contempt of court) declaring in parliament he would be tried, nobody has heard anything since.

This silence is particularly painful for the parents and families of the nearly 150 (mostly students) people who were massacred by the TTP faction to which Ehsanullah Ehsan belonged and on whose behalf he claimed responsibility for the atrocity. The parents might have a faint hope of learning the truth once their long-held demand for a judicial commission is fully entertained.

The state could have very valid reasons for the grant of amnesty in one case and the no- or slow-trial in others but it is about time the people are taken into confidence so that their faith in a fair and impartial judicial process and system is not shaken.

The truth must be told no matter how inconvenient it might be.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2018